Emergency Preparedness Perspectives from Corporate Offices
Towering office buildings and skyscrapers are commonplace in today’s urban landscapes. Urban planners and architects work feverishly to create office buildings that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye and provide safe workplace environments. With this backdrop, many corporate professionals spend years toiling away to be earn that nice spacious corner office with the great view. Junior executives and office workers aspire to one day have their desk in that highly desirable location overlooking picturesque parks, and cityscapes. But for now find themselves inside those coveted perimeter offices with windows ensconced in the domain of the cubicle. Just think the corner office might just be the least desirable place to be during an emergency or disaster!
In lessons learned from the tragic Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11, Anthrax, Mumbai terrorist attacks and the Virginia Tech shootings, significant thought must be given to planning for a broad range of emergencies and disasters that can impact your “office community”. In addition to the above terrorist/criminal incidents, extreme weather, earthquakes, fire and other man-made and technological calamites must also be factored into your corporate emergency plans. We must also underscore the point that as threat conditions change, so must plans, provisions and response procedures.
In recent months our ICE PACK management team has participated in a number of emergency preparedness briefings, panel discussions, and dialogues with local government officials, and corporate emergency preparedness coordinators throughout the country. Below are some of the key issues that have persistently arisen in our discussions, which we’re sure you’ll find of interest.
- Threat Assessment and Vulnerability. Among the emergency and disaster threats that rank among the top in terms of organizational facility discussions have been; Fire, Bombing, Active Shooter, Shelter-in-Place, and CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive) attack. The possibility of an Active Shooter situation has fostered some of the most intense discussion among our corporate contacts. We would strongly recommend specialized on-site training in this area from The Center for Personal Protection and Safety. They have also produced an excellent training DVD titled “Shots Fired: When lightning strikes!” that should be viewed by all corporate office personnel in support of an Active Shooter emergency action plan.
- Office Layout. Offices with external windows are vulnerable to bomb blasts, and high wind conditions (e.g. tornados and hurricanes) and projectiles carried by those winds. Ground floor glass clad lobbies are additionally vulnerable to civil unrest, and criminal break-in. Receptionist and security desk locations are critical components of the organizational emergency plan, so insuring their personal safety, operability and ability to communicate is key to sustaining a successful disaster response. Interior securable rooms are needed to protect staff during security lockdowns and shelter-in-place actions. Look critically at the sizes of your designated safe rooms, the capacity and logistics needed to support the occupants (e.g. communications, water, food, medical, entertainment, shelter improvement supplies, etc.). Multiple room locations mean expanded logistics and close coordination.
- Communications. Communications is the single most recurring discussion point when discussing emergency preparedness and disaster response. Office telephone systems should not be counted on to work. Cellular telephones are a good backup, however it has been noted during many disasters that the cellular network is quickly overwhelmed with users or the cellular towers have been destroyed. Sending SMS text messages sometimes works when cell phones will not. Consider using handheld FRS/GMRS/CB/VHF/UHF radios for inter-office communications, coordination, and evacuation. For communicating to the “outside world” the remaining option is satellite communications. The SPOT GPS satellite messenger is an excellent emergency communications tool that gives you the ability to send messages from nearly anywhere you can view the sky, to advise home office or loved ones about your status. Satellite telephone handsets can maintain communications and business continuity for your company and provide a vital link between your staff and their families. These technologies all support a good crisis communications plan.
- Shelter-In-Place. We have found this term to be used universally and applied to “any” condition that forces office occupants to remain inside a sheltered or protected area. We are not in total agreement with this approach. We have urged emergency planners and coordinators to make standard operating procedure (SOP) distinctions between extreme weather sheltering, security lockdown and true Shelter-In-Place protection against chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) threats. While they share many common elements, an incorrect course of action could cost lives.
- Personnel Capacity. Depending on the type and location of your office, you could end up with many more people seeking shelter, than actually work at your location. For instance if your office is in a building with hundreds or thousands of visitors each day, you need to figure out what you can and cannot do to assist those who may be in need during a disaster. Logistical planning is the key to maximizing your potential to help as many people as possible or practical. Refer to the previous ICE PACK® PACE planning blog post. There will most certainly be offices with personnel less prepared than your own, that will come to your door during a disaster or emergency. Are you sufficiently prepared and provisioned to help them, without putting your own corporate staff at risk?
- Water and Food. Typically plan to have about 2-liters of drinking water on-hand for each person each day. Now this amount can change drastically if you end up with unexpected guests, or if the emergency happens during hot weather (remember without electricity you have no air conditioning). Most offices keep lots of bottled water on hand so generally this should not be a big issue. If not, plan for long shelf life water and note that bottled water should be regularly rotated.
Keep a supply of “non-thirst provoking” food on hand. Try to keep your meal plan balanced, especially if you’ll be eating it for several days. A menu of only dried fruit or granola bars for several days will get old in a hurry! Emergency food stores should be shelf stable for a minimum of 5 years. There are many excellent manufacturers with tasty meal selections. This variety of meals makes emergency meals more like a picnic!
- Sanitation and Hygiene Whether you are involved in a security lockdown for 3 to 6 hours or shelter-in-place situation for several days, people must go to the toilet. Inadequate planning for toilet use can at the very least be most embarrassing, certainly unhealthy or at worst dangerous. Dangerous you say? Yes, wandering the hallways looking for a toilet during a security lockdown could bring you face to face with an Active Shooter, or SWAT Team looking for an unidentified dangerous shooter. Is it you? Because SWAT operators will not know if you are a “good guy or gal”. You can be sure that you’ll be looking down the barrel of at least several HK-MP5’s.
- Utilities. Some corporate emergency planners and coordinators inexperienced with crisis planning and response take for granted that electricity and water will be available during the disaster. This is an ill advised assumption as the more severe the emergency or disaster, the greater the chances are that you will be without electricity and/or water! We continue to urge emergency planners and coordinators to plan not to have utilities. In the event that you do, you’ll be ahead of the situation.
- Temporary Shelter Repair. Depending on the disaster event you may need to make temporary structural repairs (seal off broken windows, roof leaks etc.) or keep the elements from further damaging corporate property. Simple hand tools, fasteners and supplies will be needed for you to do this and while you may not be the maintenance lead from your office, you may well have need of his skill sets and tools!
- Building Evacuation. There is a lot of good information out there about how to egress a building during an emergency (e.g. smoke/fire) or disaster. A well laid out evacuation plan with route and rally point contingencies is the foundation for safely egressing a building during an emergency. Once the plan is established make sure it is widely distributed, understood (and not simply left on a computer that won’t have any electricity) and practiced (e.g. quarterly emergency drills).
Avoid if at all possible unconventional upper level escape tools that can be dangerous and potentially inaccessible to those office personnel that are physically challenged or lack needed body strength and coordination. For example take a look at the Surviving Disaster: Building Fire episode from Spike TV. There is some good information in this highly dramatized TV show episode and it will certainly heighten your awareness of an office building fire threat. However, seek professional guidance and training in the preparedness phase of your emergency planning, as many of the techniques demonstrated on this TV show are dangerous and should not even be considered unless you are in the direst of circumstances. Consider this Reality Television “Edutainment” (mixed education and entertainment).
Since toxic smoke is by far one of the greatest hazards when egressing a burning building, consider having ANSI certified smoke escape hood available for your Fire Wardens and staff. These emergency respiratory hoods can provide you with approximately 30 minutes of protection as you move thru areas filled with toxic smoke and high temperatures.
If upon reading this blog post you find that your corporation’s emergency plans cover the above emergencies and disasters, then consider your organization well along the path to resiliency. If not, don’t casually write off what you have learned. Take the time and address the identified shortfalls in your plans and provisions. It could mean saving your life and the lives of others.
FACTA NON VERBA…